As the time approaches for spring conferences, I thought it would be helpful to offer some advice to parents as you head in.
Time is limited to have a meaningful conversation with your child’s teacher at Parent/ Teacher Conferences, so be sure to make the most of the time you have. Here are 5 simple rules to follow that can make the difference in helping your child in Elementary and Middle School:
1. Stop focusing on the Grades: Especially in Elementary School and even Middle School, parents tend to focus way too much on whether or not Johnny is getting straight A’s. Let me be clear, grades are important, however the need to debate turning some B’s into A’s is ludicrous. Harvard will not be checking Johnny’s 5th Grade report card to determine his acceptance or rejection. The question to ask is whether or not your child is giving a great effort towards their education. It is about preparing your child for their future education: A “hard-working” C is better than a “lazy” A!
2. Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: You will most likely be surprised as a parent to hear what the teacher sees as both strengths and weaknesses. Seeing your child in the different light of a classroom allows the teacher to be open-minded and not be prejudiced towards certain actions. Each child can truly start with a clean slate every year, so the teacher should be able to express individually what he or she sees in your child. Celebrate and be proud of the strengths your child demonstrates, but take more notice about their weaknesses. Each child is only as strong as their weakest link. The question to ask is simply what strengths and weaknesses does the teacher see in your child. No child has every suffered low self-esteem based upon their strengths.
3. Importance of Social vs. Academic: If you are focused on grades, you will never get to the most important factor for success in life. Your child’s ability to socialize with their classmates is just as, or, I would argue, more important than their academics to be successful in life. Collaborating with partners and groups is a fact of today and tomorrow’s workplace, and those skills are developed throughout the school day, in the classroom, at lunch, and at recess. The question to ask is what does the teacher see in your child’s ability to interact with others in the school, not just with classmates, but all students, staff, etc. Some of the greatest ideas have been lost because someone never voiced them.
4. Identifying Gifted/Remedial: You may feel as if your child needs to be placed into Gifted and Talented, or needs remedial help. Should you wish to discuss the options, or requirements for either, please make sure to have some documentation. For GnT, your opinion that your child is as smart as Billy who is in GnT, is not the requirement. If your child is not receiving straights A’s on average, then please be rational. As for remedial help, be passionate about the help your child needs, but come with organized thoughts not centered on grades. Behaviors that you see at home that can be compared to what is seen at school is extremely helpful. Also understand that there is a difference between a struggling student and one who needs remedial help. The question to ask, either way, is whether or not the teacher observes your child on the same level as you do, and what steps can be put into place to 1) help your child immediately, and 2) ensure your child receives proper support if identified in observation. In either case, GnT or Remedial, documentation to support your child will go a long way.
5. Place your Pride aside: While it is great to hear your child is doing well, there will be times that you will receive information you don’t agree with or don’t want to hear. Keep an open mind about what is being said and how the situation can be rectified. The last thing a teacher wants to do is create an irate parent by making up situations. It is not a knock on your parenting abilities, just simply communicating the situation they observe to obtain the best possible solution WITH you. Also, remember that for the teacher, it is NEVER about you and parenting, it is ALWAYS about what is best for the student. The question to ask is what can I do to help solve this issue. It is a sensitive discussion that every teacher dreads having to approach, and you reaching out an olive branch of joining forces will be welcomed.
As an added bonus, never be afraid to ask you the teacher for advice on helping your child. How to help a child with Homework is something most parents want to know. You can ask for a list of questions to ask to help with Reading Comprehension, options in developing study skills and note taking, or even help with the “new ways” of solving math problems. Just don’t ask if they have extra workbooks for you to have. They spend enough of their hard-earned money on the students, and I am letting you know that the local teacher supply stores are open to the public. You can purchase most teaching materials there and get help from the sales person who is usually a teacher or former teacher themselves, or simply ask during your conference where you can go and what is recommended for your child!